WHat did Audiophiles hear during Tape deck era?

How did Audiophile listened to audiophile quality during tape cassett era?

"Prerecorded sets were crap."

I found pre-recorded tapes to be listenable, but little more. The industry tended to only use the cheapest ferric tapes. Home recordings on the vastly superior chrome Cr02 formula, with increased dynamics and bandwidth, would be far superior, whether off the radio or vinyl. Both TDK and later Sony made some great tapes.

Since pre-recorded tapes cost the same as vinyl there was unsurprisingly a huge surge in home taping in the 1980s. So much so that the music industry began to regularly churn out ’Home taping is killing music’ warnings.

There were followed by calls to impose a financial levy on blank cassettes, but these quickly fell by the wayside during the 90s with the emergence of MiniDisc, DAT and CDR technology which went hand in hand the the rise of MP3 filesharing.

The rest is history.

Excellent revisit by Techmoan here

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As good as some of the higher end compact cassette machines got, the pre-recorded cassettes always suffered from the limitations of the high speed duplication process used to record them.  If you were making your own recordings, you could achieve better quality, but still, without Dolby B, C or the DBX noise reduction circuits in the better machines, tape hiss was audible.  Those noise reduction systems improved things, but now one needed to pay attention to what tape the machine was optimized for.  Some machines even had bias adjustment features, but it wasn't long after that, that CD's started to make their debut.  Sony recognized the limitations of the compact cassette and introduced a product called the L-Cassette which used 1/4" tape and ran at 3-3/4 i.p.s.  The L-Cassette was nearly the size of an 8-track cartridge and improved the signal to noise and frequency response limitations of the compact cassette, but pre-recorded L-Cassettes were never made and the format died an early death.  I often wondered if Sony introduced that format 5-10 years earlier, if it might have enjoyed greater acceptance.
First a couple of snarky answers: (1) they listened to music, (2) nothing, because none of us used the term "audiophile" in those days.  Enjoyed a Sony RTR machine for years, later a Nakamichi 1000 that my brother and I bought jointly (used, because they were so darned expensive!).  Added a dox noise reduction unit later on; pretty darned good results for the era. That equipment is long gone, although I still have a couple hundred cassettes in the closet.
I WILL take those cassettes off your hands. Name your price.